Born-again Burberry

Modelled by Stella Tennant, worn by Jarvis and Noel and shot for the pages of Vogue and Frank, that check is suddenly, unexpectedly hip. James Sherwood reports on the Regent Street revivalists

THE FASHION industry always had a sneaking suspicion that US designers like Ralph Lauren pillaged classic British style and sold it back to us with a polo pony logo and a price hike. This season, the Empire strikes back. In July US Vogue, Shalom Harlow modeled a neat blue tank top. It wasn't designed by usual suspects Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein or Isaac Mizrahi. It was by Burberrys, and was the third time in as many months this spinster of the British high street has been in Vogue. The shock is equal to Dame Barbara Cartland having her tongue pierced.

Street fashion has a nasty habit of trawling the bargain basement of naff labels to find candidates ripe for ironic revivals. Think of the faun polyester Farah pants or tacky Hawaiian shirts. Burberrys, with fellow Regent Street old dears Aquascutum, Scotch House and Austin Reed, don't fit this postmodern pattern. You will see Alexander McQueen, Jarvis Cocker and the Gallagher brothers wearing the Burberrys signature check with no irony intended.

To understand the monumental reversal of fortune for Burberrys, you have to cast your mind back only a matter of years. Burberrys was a middle- aged, middle-market fashion blind spot on the high street. Camilla Parker Bowles would shop there. Bjork would not. Reviving a label once the new generation has decided it's not cool is like trying to resuscitate a corpse. No amount of retail spin doctoring can entice young people if the product is terminally frumpy. But fashion, particularly London street style, is quixotic.

"A person like me, who shops at Helmut Lang and Gucci, is now shopping at Burberrys," says Frank fashion and beauty director Kim Stringer. "The autumn/winter collection was a watershed for all the Regent Street stores. They are trading on their names and reputations for luxury while acting very quickly to modernise and clean up their collections. It is out with the gold buttons and the heavy fabrics. Instead of being a three-quarter Burberry trench, it now sits bang on the knee and the pleated skirt is the right length."

"Burberrys is iconic," says chief executive Rose Marie Bravo. "Katharine Hepburn wore Burberrys in the Forties and fashion has shifted back to the pared-down, severe Hepburn style in the Nineties. A lot of those big US designers like Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors are inspired by what I call the classic British style. The new generation come to Burberrys because they are discovering the authentics: going back to the original source."

A retail hot-shot like Bravo, formerly the President of Saks 5th Avenue, wouldn't be in a thousand-mile radius of Burberrys unless she knew it was hitting the consumer G-spot. "Rose Marie Bravo has put a brilliant spin on Burberrys. Her target is to turn the label around in five years and make it a global brand. She's taken all the elements Burberrys is famous for and modernised," says Stringer. "Scotch House was always Burberrys' little sister. It was always funkier. But now you see the kilts getting shorter, the knits getting more fitted. I went to see Austin Reed's and Aquascutum's autumn/winter collections and they are getting the key pieces right."

In the cynical Nineties, we are increasingly disenchanted with labels. Anyone can buy a Jil Sander charcoal pantsuit and look fabulous. The mood now is to be smarter with the mix: putting a vintage beaded camisole top with a Joseph pencil skirt, thrift shop flip-flops and a Burberrys headscarf. We will pay for luxury, be that a pashmina scarf or a bright red cashmere tank. What we won't do is pay double simply because it is cashmere by Calvin. As Bravo says, people are going back to the authentics.

"Labels have a life of their own," says Scotch House MD Sally Ireland. "They suffer if they don't get the attention they deserve. So what we're seeing is a return to luxury in high fashion and a new generation discovering Scotch House. There is something so easy and sexy about a cashmere twin- set or a pretty cream satin knife-pleated skirt. We've always designed these silhouettes but I think we've responded to high fashion by producing the twin sets in pastels and hot pinks as well as the classic neutrals. By tweaking the design subtly, we've made Scotch House right for the Nineties."

A major model, like face of Givenchy Honor Fraser, wouldn't model for Scotch House ad campaigns unless the label was sharp. A photographer like Mario Testino wouldn't shoot Stella Tennant for Burberrys if it was anything less than A-list and endorsed by US Vogue. Suzy Bick will be the face of Austin Reed for autumn/winter 98. Again, her association with the label indicates that Austin Reed will be the next to join the British hip list. The autumn collection for Austin Reed features Hepburn-style grey flannel slouch pants and tuxedo-cut jackets, which indicate that Austin Reed are getting there.

Kids instinctively avoid stores their parents shop in unless they've been given the green light by street style dictators like The Verve's Richard Ashcroft, the Gallagher boys or the Wu-Tang Clan. When Ashcroft wore a pair of Clarks Wallabee boots on the cover of Urban Hymns, he rubber- stamped "Cool" on Clarks. The over-twenties will remember the horror of Mum dragging you into Clarks for a pair of school shoes and the consequent humiliation in the playground when you wore those shapeless, rubber-soled slabs. Now kids would swap their Nikes for a pair of cult Clarks shoes. Hush Puppies also traumatised a generation of unwilling wearers. This year they featured in a six-page Wallpaper spread and were worn with pride by John Travolta, David Schwimmer and Tim Roth. "The last time Hush Puppies were a cult was the Sixties," says marketing director Tracy Rist. "Then, in 1995, US designer John Bartlett commissioned a classic Hush Puppy slip- on dyed to match his collection in lemon, lime and lavender. The international fashion press went into a frenzy when they realised these colours weren't going into production." Puppy lovers Kula Shaker, Naomi Campbell, Madonna, George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston naturally gave the label a little kudos.

One word of warning. Don't overdo it with the Burberry check or you'll end up looking like a scary heritage tourist with more money than sense.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Coordinator

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

    Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

    £350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

    Embedded Linux Engineer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

    Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

    £50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on